Why 'Animals Make Us Human' Why you should adopt a black cat instead of an orange one? Do dogs need a pack leader or a poppa? And how do you to draw blood from an antelope without terrifying it? These are some of the questions animal advocate Temple Grandin answers in her new book.
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Why 'Animals Make Us Human'

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Why 'Animals Make Us Human'

Why 'Animals Make Us Human'

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This is Day to Day. I'm Noah Adams.


And I'm Alex Cohen. Why should you adopt a black cat instead of an orange one? Do dogs need a pack leader or a papa? And how do you draw blood from an antelope without terrifying it? These are some of the questions author and animal advocate Temple Grandin answers in her new book, "Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals." Temple Grandin joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Dr. TEMPLE GRANDIN (Author, "Animals Make Us Human"; Professor of Animal Science, Colorado State University): It's wonderful to be here.

COHEN: The thesis of your book is that there are basically four core emotional systems at work in both humans and animals. Could you give us a brief overview of these four emotional systems?

Dr. GRANDIN: These were emotional systems originally identified by Jack Panksepp(ph) a neuroscientist, and they are fear, rage, panic, or separation anxiety, and goal-directed seeking behavior. When you look at behavior, you've got to go, OK, what emotion would be driving that behavior? And also, I would like to give credit to my co-author, Catherine Johnson, on coming up with the idea of linking the core emotions to a lot of abnormal behaviors, like animals maybe chewing something up or, you know, they're really aggressive or they are scared and they're cowering in the corner.

COHEN: And so the basic philosophy that you write about, which seems to make a lot of sense, is you stimulate this seeking mode and the play mode, and you try to avoid things like rage and fear in an animal. So let's talk a little bit about some specific animals and some theories you outline. One animal you write a chapter about is cats, and how to read their emotions. And you note a really interesting point. Cats don't have eyebrows. Why should that matter?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, they don't have the expressive faces that dogs have. I mean, dogs, you can kind of tell what they're thinking. If you want to train a cat, the best way to do it is with clicker training, using food as a motivator, where a dog will do stuff for you just because he wants to do it, just for the social reward.

COHEN: I thought it was fascinating that you suggest that when you're adopting a cat, there are certain things you might want to consider, and one of those things is color. And why is it there are certain gene traits that you're looking at that supports this idea that the black cats might be more laidback? Could you explain that?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well it's hard to explain why that would be connected to temperament, but I found in cattle, for example, that the little hairwhirls that cattle and horses have on their forehead is connected to temperament. Animals that have a hairwhirl high up on the forehead tend to startle easily, and they're more excitable. And then animals, such as the red cats, the marmalade cats - very, very affectionate, very affectionate, but startle really easily.

COHEN: I am dog owner, so I have to confess I was particularly interested in the dog chapter. And you wrote a lot about the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan. And his theory that's become very popular is that owners need to be this kind of dominant pack leader. But you don't entirely agree with that. What were some of the findings you had there about how we should behave with our dogs?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, I think, if you look at wolves, you know, you don't have a whole bunch of unrelated wolves living together. You know, they actually are family units. And I think in a really artificial situation that we've created for dogs, you know, some of Cesar's methods work. But when I was a child and all the dogs just ran around loose - you know, a young dog came into somebody's house, he got socialized, you know, with the other dogs. We didn't have all the dog bites.

Now the downside is a lot of dogs were killed by cars. That was the bad part. But the dogs had in some ways a better quality of life because dogs needs to be socialized with other dogs, not just to people, so they kind of learn the give and take of social behavior.

COHEN: These emotions that you write about, there's a basic premise throughout this book that animals do have an emotion, and I think that some critics might argue that that's anthropomorphizing a bit too much. Is there - what sort of evidence can you point to that animals really do have emotions and that they're emotions similar to humans?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, in the subcortical brain systems that all mammals have, it's hard neuroscience. The fear circuits, for example, were traced and documented 25 years ago. You know, Prozac works on dogs. You know, if there wasn't some similarity between dog emotion and our emotion, then why would Prozac work on dogs? And you look at how the brain systems are set up, especially in the subcortical parts of the brain, the older, more permanent parts of the brain, it's set up the same way with the same neurotransmitter substances.

COHEN: I'd like to ask about your chapter on zoos. And you write about a trend that zoos have been following lately to try to make enclosures that seem natural for animals in the wild. But you write that this isn't necessarily in their best interest. Why not?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, you could - if you just make an enclosure that's just a bunch of concrete rocks that looks pretty, it's still just as barren as a barren cage. You've got to give the animal the things it needs. OK, let's take an animal that a lot of people are familiar with, like the gerbil, for example. Sometimes gerbils will get into stereotypic digging - dig, dig, dig, dig, dig. So someone might say, well, let's just give the gerbil, you know, more dirt to dig in. Well, he still digs and digs.

But the reason why he is digging is he wants cover. This is an animal that out in the wild wants to get under things, so the hawks and the, you know, the predators aren't going to eat it up. What he wants is cover. And if you give him some tunnels already dug, you give him cover. Then he doesn't dig. Why is the polar bear pacing? What does the polar bear do out in nature? He walks tremendous, big, long distances seeking. So then you got to give him something to seek. It's going to be different with different animals.

COHEN: There's an anecdote in this book about a zoo that was having tremendous difficulty getting antelope from the barn where they slept every night to their exhibit at the zoo, and they had to pass through this alley. And you described that there were days that they just were struck with tremendous fear. Other days, they were fine. And the zoo brought you out to investigate. What did you find?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, there was this stupid yellow sign that said, "Danger, electrical panel." And it wasn't fastened to the electrical panel. It was leaning up against the fence. And some - and it was out in the middle of the alley, just laying upside down, the yellow back of the sign showing. And I go, they're afraid of that sign.

COHEN: And no one noticed it, but you.

Dr. GRANDIN: No. Well, you've got to be observant of the little things the animal tends to notice. And I said, look, either fasten that sign permanently to the fence, or I'm going to take it and throw it out in the bushes, and we're going to just get rid of it, because I think this is what your problem is.

COHEN: And it worked?

Dr. GRANDIN: Yeah, and it worked. You've got to look for those kinds of things.

COHEN: This book covers so many different animals, and not everyone can be a full-time animal researcher. But for people listening who want to take away from this just one thing that they can do at home with their animals - whatever their animal might be - what piece of advice would you give?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, if it's a pet animal, dogs need a lot of attention. They just don't handle being alone very well. You know, if you do have to be away at work all day, get somebody else to come over and, you know, take your dog out and play with them. And, you know, dogs need a lot of stuff to do.

COHEN: The title of this book, "Animals Make Us Human," I'm wondering if you can think back to a recent experience in all the work that you do with animals where an animal made you more human.

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, that's a hard one - that's a hard question. But, you know, right now when you ask me that, I'm seeing Mark's(ph) little red dog right now. I'm seeing Sheryl(ph), my assistant's Border Collie. She just loves to see me. Mark works for me. He does designing and drafting work for cattle ranches. But Mark used to have a little Blue Heeler dog that whenever I went over to his house, Annie(ph) would just roll on her back, and she just wanted lots and lots and lots of petting. She really enjoyed all that petting, and I enjoyed giving her that petting. And I want to tell you, it should be stroking. Not patting, but stroking. You know, a lot of animals interpret pats as hits.

COHEN: And petting the dogs makes you feel more human, how?

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, it just makes me feel good, like Annie really liked having me stroke her on the belly, so. And she always wanted to see me, too.

COHEN: Temple Grandin is professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She's also author of the new book "Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals." Thank you, Temple.

Dr. GRANDIN: Well, thank you for having me.

COHEN: For more advice from Temple Grandin, check out our blog at npr.org/daydreaming. There you can read about how I tried some of her tips with my puppy, Sadie(ph). You can also share your own pet training notes. It's all at our blog, npr.org/daydreaming.

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